Feeling Thankfully Reflective

As the year closes in on another turning of the calendar pages, 2014 is a fantastic year. We are blessed with a healthy family, great friends, wonderful colleagues and lots of great wine.

Our two granddaughters continue to grow, develop and amaze.

Alice Hazel and friends

Alice and Hazel with their friends

I encountered amazing learning opportunities this year as I discovered new colleagues and re-engaged with long time collaborators.  The highlight of the year was discovering the wonderful team at the TAI Group who somehow managed to teach this old dog new tricks. Through the joys of reciprocal learning, the executive coaching team at TAI continually teach me how to lead and communicate with Power and Presence. I enjoy helping them with a few things I’ve learned about business.

An exciting addition to my professional life is Scott Parris who collaborates with me in helping SaLTBOX “bend the curve” of their entrepreneurial journey. As Russ Ackoff shared many years ago, the best information retrieval and knowledge management system in the world is one’s colleagues and students. Scott pointed me to the TEDxRainier event on November 22, 2014.

The TEDx Rainier organizers curated a fabulous array of speakers as they explored the topic of the KNOWN/UNKNOWN.

“What do we know about our world? How do we know what we don’t know? The theme of TEDxRainier 2014 is The Known and the Unknown. Our talks will explore knowledge and the lack thereof, going to the edges of what we know and think we know, and beyond.”

Each of the speakers had an important message to share from the reaches of outer space to the day to day travails of our everyday world.  Rex Hohlbein deeply captured the spirit of the event with his very low key sharing of the faces of homelessness.

Rex Hohlbein - Putting a face on homelessness

Rex Hohlbein – Putting a face on homelessness

By the end of his talk, there was not a dry eye in the Seattle Opera House and we all jumped up to thank Rex with a standing ovation. His talk was a timely reminder of how lucky so many of us are AND how many are in need of our conscious awareness. This talk (at about the 7 hour and 18 minute point in the Live Stream) along with all the other talks can be found at the TEDx home page with the video live stream.

A few days after the event, one of the regular TED email blasts showed up with a pointer to Louie Schwartzberg’s “Nature. Beauty. Gratitude.” TEDx San Francisco talk illustrating with examples from his many years of time-lapse photography the beauty of nature.

Louie Schwartzberg - Nature. Beauty. Gratitude.

Louie Schwartzberg – Nature. Beauty. Gratitude.

The images from the talk are awe inspiring. I particularly loved the voice over from an elderly man with the poetic wisdom of an ancient voice:

Elderly Man:

You think this is just another day in your life? It’s not just another day. It’s the one day that is given to you today. It’s given to you. It’s a gift. It’s the only gift that you have right now, and the only appropriate response is gratefulness. If you do nothing else but to cultivate that response to the great gift that this unique day is, if you learn to respond as if it were the first day in your life and the very last day, then you will have spent this day very well.

Begin by opening your eyes and be surprised that you have eyes you can open, that incredible array of colors that is constantly offered to us for pure enjoyment. Look at the sky. We so rarely look at the sky. We so rarely note how different it is from moment to moment, with clouds coming and going. We just think of the weather, and even with the weather, we don’t think of all the many nuances of weather. We just think of good weather and bad weather. This day, right now, has unique weather, maybe a kind that will never exactly in that form come again. That formation of clouds in the sky will never be the same as it is right now. Open your eyes. Look at that.

Look at the faces of people whom you meet. Each one has an incredible story behind their face, a story that you could never fully fathom, not only their own story, but the story of their ancestors. We all go back so far, and in this present moment, on this day, all the people you meet, all that life from generations and from so many places all over the world flows together and meets you here like a life-giving water, if you only open your heart and drink.

Open your heart to the incredible gifts that civilization gives to us. You flip a switch and there is electric light. You turn a faucet and there is warm water and cold water, and drinkable water. It’s a gift that millions and millions in the world will never experience.

As I watch young Alice run around the house this Thanksgiving and help us cheer on the Seattle Seahawks, I am deeply grateful this day as I celebrate the joys and beauty of everyday life.

Little Alice Seahawk

Little Alice Seahawk

Peace to all as we navigate this tumultuous world of ours.


Posted in Family, Grand parenting | Leave a comment

My Storyteller Knows Me

coorg coffee plantationSeveral years ago my wife and I went to India to visit Brinda, an exchange student who lived with my wife for a year in high school. While we were in India, Brinda wanted us to visit her home region of Coorg to get a real sense of where her family’s roots were. We stayed with Ayu and Dechu, cousins of Brinda and her husband Anand. I could have stayed on their coffee plantation forever. It is a corner of the world that still moves with the rhythms of nature, not the fast pace of man’s progress.

Each evening after dinner we gathered in the garden overlooking the valley of their plantation and their cook would join us. He would then coorg cookdelight us with a story that would fit the mood of the day. When we got back home, we tried to think of a gift that was appropriate for Ayu and Dechu. We decided that since they liked stories so much, we would send them a VCR and several of our favorite movies and TV programs.

We received a wonderful thank you note from Ayu going on and on about how wonderful their new VCR was. About a year later I had a chance to drop in on them on my way to visit a supplier in Bangalore, India. I noticed that there was a thick coating of dust on the VCR and all the tapes.

I asked if there was something wrong with the VCR. They assured me that there wasn’t; that the VCR work just fine.

“But you don’t seem to be using it,” I asked.

“No, we really don’t use it anymore,” they replied.

I had to ask why.

Ayu replied “While the tapes are very nice, they are very impersonal stories from a very different culture. We find that we are much more comfortable with the evening stories from our cook. Because MY STORYTELLER KNOWS ME. He recognizes my mood and knows just how to weave the right story together to make sense of the day or heal the hurts of our family.”

In that instant, I was able to name what was so bothering me about my life’s work. I was one of many who are creating technology that keeps getting more and more impersonal. We are constantly having to adjust to the foibles of our machines (and their software), rather than the other way around. For twenty years, I’ve been working with personal computers who don’t even recognize me, let alone know me.

Larry Keeley, founder of the Doblin Group, observed that every urinal in American airports is more “intelligent” than the most expensive personal computer. Each urinal recognizes when there is a human present and when the human has left, flushing after a man walks away. With the advent of the modern laptop and smart phone, all of the technology exists to change this impersonal state of computers. But to do that, we’ve got to understand what it means to know someone else. It is also important to understand that knowing somebody is a loop, that is, I have to know about myself to be good at helping someone else understand me.

Recently, a new colleague, Chris Shaw, is bringing life to the human computer interface with what he is calling spontaneous animation. Using the camera and microphone of a laptop or smart phone, the user is able to “interact” physically and emotionally with an onscreen character. You can catch some glimpses of Shaw’s previous work in his videos of emotional animation. Stay tuned for a soon to be started Kickstarter campaign to fund the open source part of Shaw’s latest work.

Who is your storyteller? Do they know you?


Posted in Content with Context, Design, Relationship Capital, User Experience | 4 Comments

The Lost Art of Selling B2B – the $1B meeting

My father was a salesman. I grew up vowing I would (or could) never do what my father did. He was a “hail fellow well met” kind of guy and always had a bevy of jokes to get and keep a party rolling. I was a deep introvert and would prefer reading by myself to interacting with anybody else.

Yet, life has a way of throwing curve balls at you and here I am fifty years later realizing through the lens of Dan Pink‘s To Sell is Human, that I’ve spent my entire professional life selling. Not the used car salesman kind of selling but the manager and entrepreneur type of selling ideas, product, visions of what could be, and stock in the companies we created. As Pink shares the “non-sell sell” is any time we have to acquire resources to accomplish some goal:

“We’re persuading, convincing, and influencing others to give up something they’ve got in exchange for what we’ve got. As you’ll see in the findings of a first-of-its-kind analysis of people’s activities at work, we’re devoting upward of 40 percent of our time on the job to moving others. And we consider it critical to our professional success.”

Pink, Daniel H. (2012-12-31). To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others (p. 3).

When I look at my activities, the “selling” activities account for over 80% of my time.

As I mentor entrepreneurs, teach graduate students about entrepreneuring and generating Demand, and observe start-ups in my research at accelerators, it is clear that most professionals don’t understand the first thing about selling. Most folks start (and unfortunately stay there) in one of two camps:

  • Build it and they will come
  • Let me tell you about the 3000 features of my product

Dan Pink does a wonderful job of walking through how selling occurs today with numerous great examples. His chapter on pitches is fabulous shedding light on how today’s selling happens.

However, for those of us in the B2B world, selling is much more of a process because you are trying to establish a long term relationship not just a one time transaction.

I first experienced large scale enterprise B2B selling when we brought our office automation opportunity to DuPont. The DuPont sales rep and I went to lunch with Ray Cairns, CIO for the Textile Division, and we talked about the history of our efforts and the capabilities of our ideas.  He was an active questioner and probed far and wide about where we’d been and where we expected to go.  He knew that we were developing this capability in conjunction with our customers and then would move it into DEC’s central engineering.

Our unique offer to Ray was they would have an unlimited use license for the first version of the software within DuPont.  Then, if they liked the tools, they would have to buy licenses for the next version of the product.  This offer allowed them to amortize the cost of the project over quite a few hardware systems which made the costs appealing to their financial analysts.  We appeared to be giving up quite a bit of future software revenue, but we were betting that we would have a new version of the product well before they were ready to deploy the software across a lot of systems.  This offer was win-win for both corporations.

I relaxed and felt quite good that the decision maker would decide in our favor.  Little did I know what I was in for in the formal meeting with Ray and his twelve direct reports.  We had professional 35mm slides to present our story and product ideas.  At the end of the 30 minute overview presentation, Ray asked several warm up questions and then hit me with the question that rocked my world: “how has this product helped impact Digital’s bottom line, either positively or negatively?”  He knew from our lunch conversation that the product didn’t even exist, so that it couldn’t have much of an impact.  I knew he wasn’t a stupid man. What was going on here?

In a flash of desperate panic brilliance, it came to me that he wasn’t really asking about DEC; he was using me as a convenient foil to get critical education across to his management team.  I mumbled a few things about our unique approach to developing application software in conjunction with a customer.  Then, I turned the question around (the springboard bringer of opportunity question) to the DuPont management team and asked them how they thought this product might affect DEC’s bottom line?  It is much easier to speculate about the cause and effect in someone else’s organization when you are at a level of optimal ignorance than to do speculation about your own organization.

What ensued was a great one hour conversation about the implications of such a product and technology on a large, complex organizational system like a Fortune 50 company.

After the meeting, we were awarded the order and we now had the funding to take the ideas of our specification and our demonstration into a full blown product (which became Allin1-titleALL-IN-1 – a $1 billion per year product for DEC).  The learning for me in this meeting was quite revealing.  Our way of approaching the selling of our ideas to individual contributors and middle managers was the more traditional features and benefits – what Simon Sinek refers to as the What and How.  Ray made clear that at a certain level of management, the rules change and the offer must move from features and benefits to higher order implications.  In this case, what effect would it have on both the revenue side of DuPont and the expense side of DuPont.  In order to answer that kind of question you have to move from the product under study to the system under study.  In particular you have to look at the interactions of an entity with its environment.

We were really rolling now. I’d evolved from presenting lots of facts and features to understanding how to bring opportunity through the springboard story and the springboard bringer of opportunity question.

Fast forwarding several years to the early years at Attenex, I was once again at the forefront of selling our product to large enterprises and their law firms. Our east coast sales manager, Kathryn Hardie, brought me to NYC to meet with two up and comers at FTI ConsultingDavid Remnitz and Joe Looby.

We arranged to meet at a small NYC bistro for lunch and I shared what we were up to at Attenex. David and Joe brought a whole lot of energy to the discussion as it turned out they were proposing a big push into the eDiscovery arena and needed another technology tool to complement Ringtail. Over the course of the next several years, Kathryn worked well with David and Joe and FTI Consulting to catapult FTI to our largest customer.

After I left Attenex, David called and asked if I would help consult with FTI about their future road map for eDiscovery software products. I said I’d love to under the constraint that I wouldn’t share anything that wasn’t public about Attenex and our products. They were clear that they did want to know anything proprietary, but rather were impressed with how I’d fashioned a vision for Attenex and had translated that vision into products.

About midway through our first day long planning meeting, I realized that FTI was about to spend a large amount of money on what Attenex already had and Attenex was about to spend a lot of money building what FTI already had. I wondered aloud with a springboard bringer of opportunity question “as Attenex’s largest customer, have you ever spent any time with the development team to understand what they have and where they are headed?” I strongly suggested that the FTI team go visit the Attenex crew and look at some form of joint venture or acquisition.

Six months later, FTI acquired Attenex for $91M.

Following the completion of the acquisition, there was a surprise announcement from FTI Consulting, that based on the $91M acquisition of Attenex, they were launching an IPO of the division that acquired us to raise >$1B by selling 40% of the division. The FTI founders designed a way to turn a $91M acquisition expense into raising $1B of new capital. I was stunned at the innovative creativeness. We did not see it coming. Yet, upon reflection, if I had truly understood my Valuation Capture framework, the prediction of such a strategic move was embedded in the framework.

In a few years, that first meeting with David, Joe and Kathyrn turned the relationship with FTI from a prospect to a customer to a growth partner to an acquirer to a potential IPO.

With both DuPont and FTI Consulting, a $60 lunch started what became a $1B relationship. No wonder Keith Ferrazzi asserts that you should Never Eat Alone.

Who are you eating lunch with today?

For a humorous look at the wonderful world of innovation and new ventures, checkout Fl!p and the gang at Fl!p Comics.

Posted in Attenex, Content with Context, Entrepreneuring, Flipped Perspective, Relationship Capital | Leave a comment

TouchCast – Evolution or Revolution?

Way too many moons ago, I came across Paul Ryan and his unique approach to videography. I spent an intense cerebral day with Paul in his apartment near Columbia University in New York City. We were exploring ways to generate new products in the video capture and story telling arena at Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). My research group was enamored with the video editing tools that were showing up on the Macintosh and wondered if we could find something unique that we could do on the DEC VAXstations.

Paul walked me through his journey of discovery on the capabilities of this new medium of video in the McLuhan sense. He showed me several clips from his Nature in New York City series of explorations of ecology surrounding a large city. What captured my imagination was his “automatic composition” technique for creating educational videos. I particularly liked that he was able to teach it to junior high school students and was mesmerized by some of the student compositions. On his website, Paul shares his process through shooting the video in the categories of firstness, secondness and thirdness and then doing the automatic composition by traversing his relational circuit:

The Categories of Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness

Because I wanted a notational system for video that was responsive to the totality of the environment, I was attracted by the comprehensiveness of the categories of firstness, secondness, and thirdness as developed by the American philosopher Charles Peirce (1839-1914). Following Kant, Peirce subscribed to the architectonic theory of philosophy (Apel: 1981). By architectonic, he meant the art of constructing systems, i.e., uniting manifold ways of knowing under one idea. The idea or concept of a formal whole determines a priori both the scope of the manifold content and the positions that the parts occupy relative to each other. This unity makes it possible to determine, from our knowledge of some parts, what other parts are missing, and to prevent arbitrary additions. Knowledge can grow organically, like the body of an animal.

For Peirce, knowledge corresponds to three modes of being: firstness or positive quality, secondness or actual fact, and thirdness or laws that will govern facts in the future. Peirce held that these categories of being are phenomenologically evident to anyone who pays attention to what happens in the mind. Direct observation will produce these categories of knowledge.

Firstness is positive quality. The taste of banana, warmth, redness, feeling gloomy: these are examples of firstness. Firstness is the realm of spontaneity, freshness, possibility, and freedom. Firstness is being “as is” without regard for any other.

Secondness is a two-sided consciousness of effort and resistance engendered by being up against brute facts. The “facticity” or “thisness” of something, as it exists, here and now, without rhyme or reason constitutes secondness. To convey the pure actuality of secondness, Peirce often used the example of pushing against an unlocked door and meeting silent, unseen resistance.

Thirdness mediates between secondness and firstness, between fact and possibility. Thirdness is the realm of habit, of laws that will govern facts in the future. With a knowledge of thirdness we can predict how certain future events will turn out. It is an ‘if…then’ sort of knowledge. Thirdness consists in the reality that future facts of secondness will conform to general laws.

When we attempt to interpret a natural site with a video camera, we are confronted with “everything.” We need to make selections. If those selections are arbitrary, the final tape can leave out significant aspects of the ecosystem. Significant omissions can make the interpretation of the site faulty. Peirce’s categories of firstness, secondness, and thirdness are, in effect, a theory of everything. Using these comprehensive categories, it is possible to make selections that are responsible to “everything” at the site. The way in which Peirce’s categories can be used to organize video perception of ecological sites is evident in my videotape titled Nature in New York City (Ryan: 1989a). Consider the following list of the four sites in the tape and how my interpretation of the sites was guided by using Peirce’s categories.

1. Horseshoe crabs laying eggs, Jamaica Bay, Gateway National Recreation Area, Brooklyn and Queens. Firstness: eggs, signifying the possibility of new crabs; secondness: predator birds and meddlesome boys; thirdness: pattern of crabs mating and context of urban habitat.
2. Clay Pit Pond, Clay Pit Pond State Preserve, Staten Island. (Five phenomena selected: deciduous trees, evergreen trees, abandoned cars, grass, reeds.) Firstness: quality of five phenomena plus pond surface; secondness: facticity of five selected phenomena; thirdness: patterns of phenomena in the context of the pond.
3. Stand of trees, forest in Inwood Hill Park, Manhattan. Firstness: melting snow, bark surfaces and sprigs of green; secondness: burnt wood and litter; thirdness: children swinging on rope, pattern of tree crowns.
4. Waterfall, Bronx River, New York Botanical Garden, The Bronx. Firstness: quality of surface water and texture of turbulence; secondness; water turbulence; thirdness: explicit water patterns, geological context of the falls.

This twenty-seven-minute tape was edited in six-second passages set up in 4/4 time for musical interpretation. Each passage corresponds to firstness (F), secondness (S), or thirdness (T) and the passages fade into each other. A given sequence might run FSFT, SFST, TSFS, TFSF.

The Relational Circuit

 The Nature in New York City tape was composed using what I call “the relational circuit.” The relational circuit organizes the categories of firstness, secondness, and thirdness in unambiguous, relative positions. The circuit is to the Earthscore System what the staff and bars are to classical music notation. I originated the relational circuit based on my own video experimentation and a study of Peirce’s failed attempt to develop a logic of relationships.

Peirce thought that the organization of knowledge according to his three fundamental categories required a new kind of formal logic. During his lifetime he made four major attempts to construct a philosophic system, each attempt guided by new discoveries he had made in logic, but none succeeded.

The major difficulty Peirce had was with continuity. Peirce believed all things were continuous and that the concept of the continuum was the master key to philosophy. However, he was never able to organize his categories in a logical continuum (Murphey: 1961).

Working with video, I was able to construct a topological continuum that, I believe, supplies the formal logic necessary to realize Peirce’s architectural dream. My purpose here is to present the circuit for the reader’s inspection and show how it organizes Peirce’s three categories.

The relational circuit is a self-penetrating, tubular continuum with six unambiguous positions. The circuit below is depicted in three dimensions. There is a part contained by two parts, the position of firstness. There is a part contained by another part and containing a part, the position of secondness. There is a part that contains two parts, the position of thirdness. The circuit organizes differences in terms of these three positions and the three “in-between” positions that connect them in the continuum. Peirce’s three categories map onto this continuum. The positions are named to correspond to the categories.


The relational circuit provides the core of a notational system which can regulate composing with firstness, secondness, and thirdness in a way that is analogous to the way the painter Cezanne composed with what he fondly called his little blues, little browns, and little whites (Lacan 1978: 110). Nature in New York City is an example of such a composition. However, since this tape was produced by me as a solo artist, it falls short of the ideal in which cooperating videographers interpret the ecology. 

Paul shared that he was present during the time frame when this new medium of video was at a crossroads of evolution – would the medium be primarily used for education or for entertainment? Through the hindsight of history the path was clear – go for entertainment and for decades no one looked back. With the advent of the flipped classroom, MOOCs and mobile video capturing smart phones, we are slowly coming back to video as a key component of education and lifelong learning.

We weren’t able to make the business case for DEC going into the video products business at the time. My next encounter with the power of video was the acquisition of AfterEffects while I was at Aldus. The brilliant software engineers of CoSA developed a product that is still popular twenty years after the initial development. They brought the concepts of Adobe Photoshop to moving images. I left Aldus when we merged with Adobe and was not able to bring Paul Ryan’s composition techniques to video software editing tools.

Then on January 27th, 2010, Steve Jobs and Apple rocked my world with the introduction of the iPad (I’m now on my fourth upgrade of the iPad to the iPad Air). During the launch demo, Jobs alluded to a new vision for what traditional media (books, movies, photos) could be if you combined them in a powerful tablet computer. I envisioned that we could finally escape the tyranny of the black box of video. I was reminded of Marvin Minsky‘s Society of Mind interactive CD where each page of the CD had a page from his book and Marvin “walked” around the “page” explaining the key concepts. Peter Meyers further explored these ideas in his Breaking the PageWhat if we could really integrate and synthesize video and text and then generate automatic compositions like Paul Ryan had in mind.

While the vision was compelling, I wasn’t motivated to go build it. I keep hoping that someone will come along to fulfill the vision. I keep buying and trying apps that purport to make it easier to shoot and compose “interactive video” both for consumer use or for my professional video ethnography work in studying entrepreneurs.

So with some hope and a lot of cynicism I was pointed to Touchcast which exclaimed “TouchCast is a platform for a new class of video apps or vApps that combine the look and feel of TV graphics with the interactivity of the web.” Sitting on my deck overlooking Puget Sound with my trusty iPad, I looked at the demos and got interested. So I generated a quick version of a test app. Oh my, it actually works.  In just a few minutes, I had an interactive video with pointers to my blog and a PDF that illustrated the concept I just did a riff on.

Then I noticed that they had a developer capability. TouchCast ships with several vApps.

touchcast vapps

And amazingly you can add your own vApps.

I think I’ve found the platform for developing my book content (Emails to a Young Entrepreneurinto a mobile app that can combine presentation videos with the book content and with the exercises.

Of course, I always want to push the envelope so I am recruiting a couple of developers to see how far they can push the vApps. I am hoping I can take the Vidbolt and CommentBubble annotating capability and get them added to TouchCast. Maybe I can even talk my colleague, Kelly Franznick of BlinkUX to add TouchCast to his Feedback Panel for live streaming and commenting on user research video ethnography client projects.

Stay tuned for some early TouchCast prototypes.

Posted in Content with Context, Curation, Design, Flipped Perspective, Human Centered Design, iPad, organizing, Patterns, Teaching, Video | 1 Comment

Lifelet: NASA unveils earth selfie

Sometimes cool stuff just shows up. Today it was the unveiling of NASA’s “global selfie“. NASA asked people around the world to take a selfie and submit it on earth day. They organized the selfie’s into a global view of earth in a photo mosaic.

NASA global earth selfie

Link to the interactive explore mode and drill down to find the individual selfie photos. Make sure you play with snapshot mode as well.  One of my favorite select and zooms:

world selfie photoNow maybe NASA and Google can combine to do an autoawesome of a global view of my thousands of photos on my hard drive.


Posted in Lifelet, Lifelogging | Leave a comment

Discovering Your Inner Entrepreneur

hell freezes overA few months ago, Patrick Whitney and Matt Mayfield invited me to teach an intercession course on Entrepreneuring at the Institute of Design (ID) at the Illinois Institute of Technology. I figured that by March 3, Chicago would be out from under the brutally cold winter weather. Wrong.

I got my own week long full fruity flavor of the deep cold and snow of a Chicago winter. However, the warmth of the welcome from former students, current professors, current students and new friends from my public lecture on “Discovering, Developing and Trusting Your Inner Entrepreneur” made the trip beyond worthwhile.

One of the many gifts of teaching graduate students who are working professionals is that our paths continue to cross over the years. It was a delight to see so many former students from the ten years that I taught at ID during the 1990s.

Ed Stojakovic was kind enough to tweet a photo from the talk that captures the core flip of the FlippedStartup:

stojakovic tweet

I was excited to find that he tweeted out one of the sidebar comments “Find. Copy. Paste. Tweak.” is the new black when it comes to computer programming and the “maker” world.

I started the talk with a not too subtle summary of what it is like to be a serial entrepreneur:

recovering entrepreneur opening

Here are a few of the 12 steps to recovery for the serial entrepreneur:

step 1 EA

step 2 EA

step 5 EA

step 10 EA

step 12 EA

As with all Entrepreneur’s Anonymous meetings we closed with the Entrepreneur’s Serenity Prayer.

Serenity EA

Raina Russ and Ashley Lukasik did a great job organizing the event. They shared that there was a lot of interest from students and ID community members in entrepreneuring who couldn’t spare the time for the intercession course. They hoped that I could share what the world of entrepreneuring looks like on the west coast (Silicon Valley and Seattle) and how designers can link up with the entrepreneuring ecosystem.

The slide deck from the talk “Discovering, Developing and Trusting Your Inner Entrepreneur” can be found here. The core theme of the talk is that there is an incredible richness of resources for the entrepreneur. However, the entrepreneur quickly finds that many of the resources and “helpers” advice is in conflict. What David Robinson and I call “mentor whiplash“.

mentor whiplash

One of the surprises of the evening was finding out that a reporter from the Chicago Tribune, Cheryl Jackson, was covering the event. Once again I am reminded to always understand who is in the audience. She wrote the following in an article titled “Why the business should get more attention than the product“.

The average entrepreneur often pays too much attention to the product, and that’s a mindset that needs to be corrected, executive coach Skip Walter said Wednesday during a talk at IIT Institute of Design.

Rather than product, entrepreneurs need to focus on the valuation and the exit, Walter said.

“Everyone is focused on a product instead of on the business,” he said. “The founding entrepreneur has to be focused on the business more than the product and separate the two things. The valuation is when you sell the business as an asset.”

Entrepreneurs also tend to overlook better sources of money, he said. They often have friends, family, angel investors and venture capitalists on their radar but don’t consider corporate investors, who could do double duty – provide funding outright to a budding enterprise and buy services or products from that business, Walter said.

“Corporate or strategic investors often become a customer,” he said. “If they’re going to invest in you, often they have a problem internally that they want you to help them solve. So you get your first customer.”

“And you’ve got your exit partner,” he said, adding that such relationships often have larger companies buying ones in which they have invested.

Until they are flush, startups need to do a lot of experimentation, he said. Instead of the ready-aim-fire method of corporations, smaller operators need to think ready-fire-aim, Walter said.

“A large company will do ready, aim, aim, aim, aim and aim for years, and then launch something into the market,” he said. “They have all kinds of resources. An entrepreneur, because they have fewer resources, has to say ‘Let me experiment. Let me try a couple of experiments that will help me sort out where I want to aim my product.’”

Walter was founding CEO of Attenex, which was sold to FTI Consulting for $91 million in 2008. He has raised more than $25 million in new venture funding for companies, and he said it’s easier to launch a technology business than when he started.

“It used to be if we wanted to program anything, we had to write in this arcane computer language,” he said. “Today, there are libraries of programming code, which we call recipes. You copy it and edit. It takes like minutes, when it used to take us months.”

However, the real treat was to wake up to a sketchnote from Stefani Bachetti. Stefani nicely captured the visual gist of my talk in the following sketch:

05mar14 stefani bachetti notes skipwalterThank you Stefani for summarizing the talk better than I ever could.

Posted in Design, Emails for Young Entrepreneur, Entrepreneuring, Flipped Perspective, Human Centered Design, Learning, User Experience | 2 Comments


My colleague, David Robinson, works tirelessly to get me to tell stories. It’s not that I don’t want to. I spent forty years being a terminal analytic, just the facts, kind of presenter. I forget to step back and compose my thoughts in a story, rather than a series of Powerpoint bullets. Even after helping edit David’s book about seeing stories, The SeerI still forget.

Storyscaping book coverEver present Amazon knows that I need to learn more about story telling as they sent me a “New Book Release” email that pointed to Storyscaping: Stop Creating Ads, Start Creating Worlds. I loved the title so of course I had to buy it and download it. Little did I know I was going to lose the next two days of my life as I inhaled the wonderful extension of story telling to building storyscape worlds. I was really hooked when the authors acknowledged Rick Robinson and John Cain (former colleagues at the Institute of Design) for teaching them the power of ethnography.

Since I had no idea what a storyscape was, I was delighted that the authors started with some definitions of the spectrum of marketing differentiation with a clear example of the differences.

“The Fast , Cheap, and Good Rule. We are not sure who came up with this old notion, but we think the first time we heard it was from a building contractor during our office remodel. “Pick two,” he requested. “You can have your office done fast and good, but it won’t be cheap. Or, we can do it fast and cheap, but it won’t be good.” He reinforced his delivery on any combination of those two elements with a caveat: We should expect to sacrifice on the third element. We think the opposite exists in any market-facing business. Here we use the same idea of juggling three relatable components in a formula, only this time we plug in value, story, and experience. Unlike the previous “rule” where two elements were reductive to the third, this logic amplifies the third. For example, if you provide great value and create a great experience, you will improve your story. If you have a great story and you provide a great experience, you amplify your value. We will explore the relationship between experience and product further in this book because we believe they are interchangeable ideas— or at least highly related. The same goes for value and price. If you provide a great experience (product) and have a great story (brand), you should be able to merit higher value (price). It’s time to recognize that any fool can offer a discount to sell more product or service, printing a bunch of coupons or promoting buy-one-get-one-free offers or even renting a chicken suit— these options do not take much imagination and are rather shortsighted. On the flip side, savvy marketers can differentiate their product or service by crafting a memorable brand story that emotionally connects a company to its customers through shared values. This option requires real imagination and some emotional intelligence. Trumping all of these options is the genius who puts it all together by connecting a great story with an immersive and differentiated experience at the right price. With that said, another great way to differentiate and grow is to re-imagine how a product or service is delivered by creating new business models, a truly differentiated experience, or innovation. It takes a visionary to pull that off. How do you differentiate and grow your business?

The following is a taste of what we are concocting throughout this book— a snapshot of four main approaches to marketing. First we offer a hypothetical example about a pizza store, designed as a useful, quick look at how your any-size, any-type business compares within a simplified framework. Next, using that same framework, we provide highly recognizable real-world examples to further drive home our points.

Price-Based Differentiation. Sue Generic owns a pizza delivery company. There are two similar pizza joints in her small town. In order to grow her business, Sue chooses to advertise her pizza with a buy-one-get-one-free offer. In our view, Sue is not telling a good story. In fact, you could argue that the story could be interpreted as, “This is cheap pizza.” Now , of course, she has the best intentions; after all, doesn’t everyone want a good deal? The short answer is, discounting alone is almost always a bad idea in the long run. Price-based differentiation can often be a one-way ticket to commoditization, not to mention abysmal margins.

Story-Based Differentiation. Sue Generic owns a pizza delivery company. There are two pizza joints in her small town, but hers is different. In order to differentiate her business, Sue shares her story with her customers and the public in clever and relevant ways. Sue tells how she learned to make their secret sauce when she was only 12. Sue uses the recipe that has been in her family for 100 years, and she imports all the key ingredients weekly, including the “secret” herbs for the sauce. New customers line up to try her family recipe every day. She never takes reservations, never rushes an order, and closes early when she runs out of pie dough for the day.

Experience-Based Differentiation. Sue Generic owns a pizza delivery company. There are two other similar pizza joints in her small town, but she intends to change the game. In order to grow her business, Sue chooses to offer guaranteed delivery in 30 minutes or less. She has even invested in a mobile app that allows her very busy customers to order their favorite custom pie on the fly so they can get those kids fed and in bed tonight. Hers is the only pizza joint to offer this differentiated experience, and her customer base keeps growing.

Storyscaping Differentiation. Sue Generic owns a pizza delivery company. There are two other pizza joints in her small town, but they cannot compete with hers. Sue understands that to build a successful business she must do all of the above while carefully balancing elements of value, story, and experience with a sharp focus on becoming part of her customers’ world. She reimagined the whole business, she has a story that truly connects with people, and she created an experience that delivers a product that can’t easily be replicated, for which her customers happily pay a premium. Sue is a genius!

Now that you have a generic glimpse of the four main approaches and how they work within their respective frameworks, the following real-world examples from the toy industry aim to add more practical fuel for comprehension.

Price-Based Differentiation. We don’t want to give this idea too much airtime, nor does it really merit any further explanation. You can find plenty of this crap all around you. The world does not need yet another factory in China making nameless blue teddy bears. We will use blue teddy bears as our example of price-based differentiation. They are $ 7.99, and that’s about all they have going for them. They could be handy if you find yourself in a situation where you need to buy a gift for a kid you don’t know well or like much . . . and they are blue . . . don’t you want one?

Story-Based Differentiation. Of course you remember the famous Cabbage Patch Kids of the early 1980s, right? Materially speaking, Cabbage Patch Kids were not too different from other dolls on the shelf next to it. They did not have computer chips incabbage patch them, they did not move, they didn’t talk, they didn’t create sounds or flash any lights—on no account were they better than any other doll. What stood out was their unique element of story; each Cabbage Patch Kid had to be “adopted,” which made the whole story as much (or more) about the buyer as it did the product. This is why people paid toy retailers and other outlets premium prices and paid doll scalpers and collectors four times those premium prices for a Cabbage Patch Kid as they would have paid for a similar doll. Today an original Cabbage Patch Kid will still fetch a handsome price on eBay. The key here is that their story put you, the “adoptive parent,” in the middle. This is exactly the kind of story we will introduce and encourage throughout the pages of this book. It’s not easy to craft the right story, but when you do, the effects are vast, powerful, and long lasting.

Experience-Based Differentiation. Do you have a Build-a-Bear franchise store in your local mall? That store takes appointments. An appointment for a store that sells teddy bears? Why? These guys have taken teddy bear sales to another level, and their success lies in the creation of immersive experiences. Envision a magical place where you can take your favorite adolescent— be it your daughter, your nephew, or even yourself. When you arrive in this magical place, you embark on the journey of picking out just the right piece of soft fur, having it stuffed to your preferred ‘squishiness’ and giving it life with its very own heart (that you can kiss for good wishes before it’s popped inside your new friend). After your bear is built to your liking, next you select the perfect outfit to take it home in. You can even add a sound and finally, the cherry on top of this customized magical experience, you get to give your new best friend a name. Who could possibly deny their kid an experience like this, even at the hearty premium price it demands? A differentiated experience like this one can grow your business fast, usually faster than a great brand story , but the trade-off is easy replication by your competitor. Therefore, the challenge with this approach is, and has always been, sustainability.

Storyscaping Differentiation. Let’s explore the phenomenon of the American Girl franchise success. In the 1980s, a publisher of educational materials came up with an idea to teach American History with the release of three 18-inch dolls, each from a different time period. These dolls all came with historically accurate storybooks American girl dolldetailing their life. While the educational aspect of these dolls was their kick start, there was also much built-in entertainment from aftermarket sales of doll accessories and clothing. Around the time Mattel bought the company in 1995, there were more than 50 dolls, all with stories from all over the world in practically every ethnicity. Every little girl could finally identify on a physical level with a doll that mirrored her, that told her tale. Today, those young doll enthusiasts have a veritable American Girl universe of exquisite retail spaces to roam and collect dolls. They can dine in American Girl restaurants or get makeovers for themselves and their dolls at American Girl salons. Their Manhattan location is on 5th Avenue, a hotbed of frenzied birthday party waiting lists. You can browse the entire catalog on your iPad and download American Girl diary apps to your iPod. Doll owners heavily travel the social media space to share couture doll ensembles or to show off impressive collections of dolls that are on and off the market like antiques and artwork. There are real-life fashion shows of dolls and their owners. In 2012 American Girl reported millions of visitors annually, with sales at $100.5 million. Their website gets more than 70 million hits per year. American Girl has a story with no periods, just commas. This is the kind of Storyscape we will delve into throughout this book— and after examining the differences between these four approaches, we think you’ll agree: Storyscaping is a methodology well worth delving into, and there is fun to be had along the way.”

The authors had me hooked and I looked forward to learning “how” to put a storyscape together. The examples above helped me understand what a storyscape is, yet I needed more of a digital storyscape to get it. The Vail EpicMix project really helped me understand what is possible when combining the physical world and the digital world:

epic mix


“We further define Storyscaping as a landscape of emotional and transactional experiences, where each connection inspires engagement with another, so the brand becomes part of the consumer’s story. When you use the Storyscaping model, it will enable you to evolve your craft in a way that makes it easier to connect to the physical, virtual, and emotional Experience Space that surrounds the customer. We will help you move beyond making ads and into creating worlds where your story can become their story through shared experiences.

Vail Resorts: EpicMix Photo CASE STUDY

Every Mountain Has a Story. Since the 1960s, vacationers have skied at the iconic mountains that are part of the Vail Resorts collection. The desire to explore and share experiences is never ending on these majestic slopes. Traditionally, their personal journeys of triumph over nature were just that, personal and usually either just a memory or one backlit snapshot.

Understanding that technology was fast becoming a part of everybody’s everyday journey, Vail Resorts released an interactive experience in 2010 called EpicMix. 10 If you were a guest at one of their then five different mountains, your lift pass came embedded with a RFID chip that automatically captures the guests on mountain experiences, allowing them to track vertical feet, earn pins, view trail maps, and access snow reports. It also provided the ability to share their stories socially on Facebook and Twitter both online and on the free Android and iPhone applications.

Nature and Technology Join Forces. Vail Resorts guests were now mobile and socially connected. They were socially connected, shooting, checking in, and sharing their comments right from the snow. So we helped Vail Resorts leverage a ripe opportunity for creating a world that started on the slopes, was disseminated by smartphones, and kept alive long after the vacation was over.

We knew that EpicMix could evolve with even greater appeal to its most valuable customers. We understood that the opportunity existed to transform what was traditionally an experience of random pieces on social channels into a world of engagement. To build this world, we helped Vail Resorts organize itself around an Organizing Idea— Unleash the Mountain— and build a system for the guests’ vacation story and their interaction with mountain adventures.

Unleash the Mountain. The immersive world of EpicMix Photo offers many connection points and ways to engage with the guest. If for every mountain there’s a story, then for every story there are many, many images. Pro photographers are strategically stationed all over the resorts to capture everything from family portraits to deep powder and big air. Those images are automatically uploaded to guest accounts via the embedded chip in their lift passes. Guests can share these high-quality images for free, and doing so has been wildly popular. They can also order high-resolution prints as an added option. EpicMix digital pins encourage exploration of the mountain with people sharing that exploration online. The Collage feature is like an extreme scrapbook. Skiers and riders can share their entire experience with achievement pins and personal stats. Skiers can calculate total vertical feet skied on the trip and tally their best day from the data automatically tracked for them in their account. There is now a racing component (EpicMix Racing) that allows guests to race against friends, family, and even Lindsey Vonn, Four Time Overall World Cup Champion and Olympic Gold Medalist. 11 Guests can view their race times, earn medals, share their accomplishments, and get racing tips to up their game from the legend herself. It all plays out on a dynamic, Mondrian-style grid that encourages skiers and riders to stay in their mountain worlds long after they’ve left the mountain. And it stays there forever. A family can preserve a lifetime of ski vacation memories for generations.

A Mountain of Experiences. All of this was wrapped up in a beautiful design, a tightly integrated mobile-Web-social system, and a new user interface that even worked with gloves on! Most hospitality and entertainment businesses would be grateful for an e-mail address from a parting guest. Vail Resorts can proudly boast over 500,000 members of a community created from Storyscaping. This sort of engagement far supersedes expectations of traditional vacation brands. Perhaps the most staggering number, though, is the 180 million social post impressions generated by the Story System that is EpicMix.”

“Thank you Miss EpicMix Photographer. You are awesome. You have no idea how your expertise affected our family. Today was a dream three years and eight months in the making. You took the Christmas card photo today. THANK YOU!” —Vail EpicMix Guest

“. . . EpicMix is expanding into photography in a big way, and it’s a significant step not just for the company, but for skiers’ and snowboarders’ experiences with their sport . . . Photo is the big change, and here, Vail is out front of Disney and almost every other vacation destination that does pro photography.” —Wired Magazine

Most of my time is spent teaching and mentoring. I am always looking for better ways to share important concepts to accelerate learning. Storyscaping provides a conceptual framework for interesting capabilities that are showing up in tools like Touchcast which looks like TV, but feels like the interactive web. Seeing what Google is doing with Stories and Autoawesome to unlock the treasure trove of personal rich visual media, I think it is time to re-imagine how 21st century learning might occur.


With the advent of the industrial age, schooling was separated from the world of work. Prior to the industrial age learning and doing were integrated within the guild.  Now that we are deeply in the Second Machine Age with very powerful mobile smart phones and brilliant multi-media tablets, doing and learning can be re-integrated. Further, we have the ability to provide learning and doing at the right time, in the right form, in the right location, and in the right context.

Russ Ackoff observed that the person who learns the most in the classroom is the teacher. He advocated turning every student into a teacher. Luis von Ahn with his insights that led to the development of Recaptcha and Duolingo asked the question how do we take mundane activities of billions of users and turn them into something useful? Luis observed that when teaching languages that students were deeply engaged when they were working on tasks that were real (translating Wikipedia articles) versus toy learning exercises. Our own experiences with peer learning (think-pair-share) and the creation of peer advisory boards for executives along with the success of social media demonstrates the importance of peer generated content.

A possible solution integrates these insights through an always available “My Storyteller Knows Me.” As Gregory Bateson described in Mind and Nature:

“There is a story which I have used before and shall use again: A man wanted to know about mind, not in nature, but in his private large computer. He asked it (no doubt in his best Fortran), “Do you compute that you will ever think like a human being?” The machine then set to work to analyze its own computational habits. Finally, the machine printed its answer on a piece of paper, as such machines do. The man ran to get the answer and found, neatly typed, the words:


“A story is a little knot or complex of that species of connectedness which we call relevance. In the 1960s, students were fighting for “relevance,” and I would assume that any A is relevant to any B if both A and B are parts or components of the same “story”. Again we face connectedness at more than one level: First, connection between A and B by virtue of their being components in the same story. And then, connectedness between people in that all think in terms of stories. (For surely the computer was right. This is indeed how people think.)”

This hypothetical platform is a combination of a rich media mobile device (phone or tablet) for voice, video and text access from the user tied to cloud services for storage, meaning making, and social sharing. Like the many lifelogging apps, Q&A apps (Qazzow) and search engine profiles, the system is highly context aware of the learner/doer. The learner/doer is either in a capture mode (sharing their story or doing activity in multiple media) or learning mode (need help or desire insights or dive deeper). By crowd sourcing the content (capture), we remove a major bottleneck of MOOCs and other online learning systems. Through a Wikipedia-like editing team and automated curating analytical engines, the best and most appropriate content in context is available for the learning mode (help, insights, deep dive).

learning and doing

This platform could make money through a combination of subscription services for the doing/learning tool and transactive content.  Transactive content is the combination of rich content, interactive technologies, and transaction systems. Comr.se provides a robust example of automatically moving an eCommerce website into user generated content streams (Facebook and Twitter) and merchant generated ad streams to produce transactive content.

transactive content updated


What if our learning systems and our doing systems could be the same?

What if every story we told could be embedded in a storyscape?

Posted in Content with Context, Curation, Design, Human Centered Design, Innovation, Learning, organizing, Software Development, Transactive Content, User Experience | Leave a comment